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The Puzzles of US Foreign Policy

Abdul Mannan

by tbhad

Not many countries can be proud to claim that it has been an independent and democratic country for about two and half centuries (since 1776) the way the United States of America can. This is a country that has produced great leaders and statesmen like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick D. Roosevelt. It gave world iconic human rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Brad Adams and Malcolm X, scientists like Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin and  Albert Einstein.  Unfortunately the country is yet to have a consistent foreign policy. A foreign policy of any independent country is expected to be driven by national interest but in the case of US even its own political analyst like the iconic intellectual superstars Noam Chomsky thinks that the ‘US foreign Policy is straight out of the mafia’ and it is the corporate interest that shapes the US foreign policy and since the end of second world war this has become a reality as US was more keen to serve the US corporate interest rather than its people. (The Guardian, 7 November 2009).

US Foreign Policy under all its administration was driven by the doctrine of dominance across regions and if challenged intervention took over all logic and reasoning. Over the years it has made the world body the United Nations redundant many times. The invasion of Iraq on the pretext that it possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) which was proven to be a bogy was done disregarding United Nations and even the Security Council decisions. The invasion of Afghanistan in the name of War against Terror left Afghanistan in the hands of Taliban militants after fighting a protracted war in that country for thirteen years. Since invading Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has spent US$ 2.313 trillion. This does not include funds that the US government is obliged to spend on lifetime care for veterans of this war. The American war in Afghanistan war incurred staggering human costs-for the United States, Afghanistan and others-over two decades. The war led to the deaths of 2,324 US military personnel, 3.917 US contractors and 1,144 allied troops. Noam Chomsky says ‘US invasion of Afghanistan is one of the most immoral acts in modern history.’(The Guardian, 7 November 2009). Since the Second World War the US lost all wars that it started, be it in Vietnam or Afghanistan.

In the height of the cold war in the sixties and seventies it was the race for gaining supremacy over the natural wealth of nations and preventing the former Soviet Union in spreading its socialist doctrine in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A catastrophic war was created in Vietnam and IndoChina that lasted over twenty years, finally to be lost to the barefooted Vietnamese guerrillas in 1975. The US tested all sorts of modern weapons that it had in its arsenal just stopping short of dropping a nuclear bomb which they did in Japan as the Second World War was coming to an end, killing more than two hundred thousand people most of whom were civilians and destroying the entire cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Vietnam received its own share of Napalm, Cluster Bombs and lethal gas from the US, which destroyed the forests and foliage in that country. US costs in the 8 year old Vietnam conflict (1965-73) amounted to US$ 120 billion and the massive spending led to widespread inflation, exacerbated by a worldwide oil crisis in 1973 and skyrocketing the fuel price. One of the countries that was economically hard hit by this global inflation and oil crisis was the war devastated Bangladesh.

Approximately one hundred years after independence the 5th US President James Monroe (1817-1837) first formally articulated the US foreign policy in 1873. Before Monroe the first US President George Washington adopted the policy of isolation and announced its intention to keep out of Europe. The US practiced this policy till the First World War. James Monroe in his foreign policy statement reiterated that the US will oppose any European colonization in the Western Hemisphere and any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas (including Latin America) by foreign powers will be treated as a potential hostile act against the United States. This was a time when many European powers like Britain, Spain and France had colonies in Americas.

Once the mighty military and economic power called the US is currently shrinking in its stature. China, the country US always loves to hate, is inching to become the world’s biggest economic power and despite all the sanctions against China it remains the largest trade partner of the US. Its military might is already challenging that of the US.

In recent times the US foreign policy as announced by the US policy makers in Washington is driven by their version of Human Rights and Democracy. To a great extent the universal perception is that the US definition of Human Rights and Democracy is to a great extent deceptive and selective. US claims of its commitment towards democracy and human rights falls flat when one traces the political history of nations since the end of the Second World War. In 1953 the elected Iranian Government of Dr. Mosaddegh was overthrown by a CIA and Britain’s MI6 engineered coup. Mosaddegh, who belonged to the left of centre National Front as per his election pledge nationalized all the Iranian oil fields that were being plundered by the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The Shah of Iran, the long term friend of the west and a dictator, was challenged by Dr. Mosaddegh. After Mosaddegh’s overthrow Shah was reinstated and Iran and the plundering of Iranian natural resources continued till he was overthrown by a popular Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Very similar regime changes happened in Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Cambodia and many other countries around the world.  In most of the cases elected governments were replaced by military dictators that    would serve the US corporate interest. A classic case was in Indonesia when a CIA backed coup in October of 1965 which led to the overthrow of the popular government of Soekarno by the military dictator General Suharto. The coup led to the massacre of the Indonesian Communist Party supporters and leaders (PKI) which securely opened the country to the Petramina (Indonesian Oil Company) oil export boom of the next decade serving the interest of the US. Approximately one million people were estimated to have been killed in the October 1968 coup of Indonesia.

Talking about Human Rights nowhere is human rights more challenged than in the US itself. The Blacks in the US still remain in a state of fear and continuous intimidation triggers movements like `Black Lives Matter.’ The American gun culture results in more than one thousand and five hundred deaths every year in the US is on record. Sometimes this number can be staggering.  US news channel ABC News reported on 2 May 2023 that till then 13,990 people died because of gun related violence.  Extrajudicial killings by US law enforcing agencies are quite rampant. Israel, the country that has made trampling the rights of uprooted Palestinians from their homes their birth right has always been supported by all US regimes. Every year on 15 May Palestine marks the day to recall the events that led 750,000 to flee homes when Israel forcefully occupied their land and took refuge in neighbouring regions and calls it `Nakba Day.’ This year the UN also commemorated the day only to be boycotted by both the US and UK. Israel to the outside world is a piece of the US in the middle of the Arab World. Torture of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay prison by the US army has now become a global issue. Myanmar from where millions of Rohingya refugees have been uprooted have always received support from the successive US governments both inside and out of the UN. It has remained the sixth largest source of foreign investment for the military junta ruled Myanmar.

The result of puzzling and corporate interest seeking US foreign policy has resulted in losing its long standing friends and sending them to the folds of Russia and China, the two arch military and political rivals of the US. Currently the US has virtually lost all its traditional friends from the Middle East upto Indo-China. The recent election in Thailand saw the emergence of a government which challenged the military backed parties who were close to the US. Currently the growing expansion of Chinese influence in the region is of a major concern to the US. The only country which has so far refused to align itself with China has been India and the US to contain Chinese influence in the region has become desperate to pull India to its fold. Recently a very powerful US Congressional Committee has recommended strengthening the NATO Plus bloc (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and South Korea) by taking India onboard. India which has a much more robust foreign policy has so far remained non-committed.

The sanctions against few RAB officials of Bangladesh announced by US in 2021 and the recent public announcement of restricting US Visa for officials and politicians who will create obstruction in holding a free and fair election as announced by Bangladesh’s Prime Minister later this year or early next year is also seen as a sort of arm twisting to compel Bangladesh minimize its engagement with China. So far Sheikh Hasina’s government has remained cool on this issue. RAB has played an extraordinary role in curbing the rise of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has maintained a warm and working relationship with the US and US is the third largest trading partner of Bangladesh, the second largest market for its readymade garments and US has the largest investment in Bangladesh’s energy sector. US donated more than 100 million doses of vaccines to Bangladesh during the pandemic that contributed to the containment of spreading of the pandemic in the country. It has always been a major source of assistance during natural disasters. All these sanctions and visa restrictions perhaps will only contribute towards creating a hitch in the relationship of the two countries and drive Bangladesh towards strengthening its ties with China. There are allegations that the current political unrest planned by some opposition parties led by the BNP are being funded by sources in the US. It has been also reported in some international media that some lobbyist firms close to the US administration are also very active in the US against the current government. US foreign policy pundits in Washington should realize that fueling unrest in Bangladesh will not serve anybody’s purpose, not even that of the US. Ensuring political stability in Bangladesh will serve not only the purpose of the people of Bangladesh but also of Washington. It is time that the US reviews its policy towards Bangladesh. The puzzling US foreign policy is just alienating   it from its traditional friends and helping in creating new foes. The US needs friends, not foes.

The writer is an analyst and commentator

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